Amanda DeWitt is an author and librarian, ensuring that she spends as much time around books as possible. She also enjoys Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragon-ing, and also writing, just not whatever it is she really should be writing. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a Masters in Information and Library Science. She lives in Clearwater, Florida with her dogs, cats, and assortment of chickens. Aces Wild: A Heist is her debut novel.
I had the opportunity to interview Amanda, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey, thanks for having me! My name is Amanda DeWitt and I’m a public librarian and author! So most of my time is spent around books, which I think is a pretty good way to spend it. Aside from books, I love playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends and learning all sorts of different arts and crafts. My favorite genre to read is science fiction/fantasy in any age group, but I also like to read a little bit of everything!
When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction?
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly, but I know I’ve been interested in writing ever since I was a kid. I remember role-playing Warrior Cats on the family computer, being absolutely obsessed with the idea of making my own stories and characters. From there writing became pretty inevitable, because it’s always been something I love to do! When I started getting serious about drafting a novel, I was drawn to young adult fiction because I was a young adult at the time, so it really made sense, but I’ve stuck with it because I love it, and because I feel like the themes you find in young adult fiction are things you can find yourself facing again over a lifetime. In a lot of young adult fiction you’ll find stories about finding out who you are and where you fit in the world, but it’s not something you figure out by a certain age and then remain that way. People grow and change over the course of their entire lives, and I love that when writing young adult fiction it can be stories that anyone can see themselves in and connect to.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Aces Wild: A Heist? Where did the inspiration for the book (and the title) come from?
Aces Wild: A Heist follows Jack Shannon as he tries to prove that his mom, a Las Vegas casino mogul, was arrested because she’s being blackmailed by Peter Carlevaro, a rival casino owner who has been obsessed with her for years. Jack recruits the help of his four friends from the information asexual support group that formed after meeting on fandom forums—Remy, Gabe, Georgia, and Lucky—to break into Carlevaro’s inner sanctum and sabotage his nefarious plans. All of which, between a colorful and meddlesome family and online friends meeting in person for the first time, does not go entirely as planned. Especially when a mysterious girl shows up to throw a wrench in Jack’s plan. It’s a fun, heartful, and chaotic little book, and I can’t wait for people to read it!
I actually started with the title, because a book with asexuals and playing cards is too good of a pun to pass up, and Las Vegas is the perfect backdrop. I actually started thinking about it while watching a (not very good, so my mind was wandering) magic show, but the thought of cards = magic quickly evolved into cards = poker. I was a little afraid to write a contemporary book—I’d never done it before, and I wasn’t sure I knew how—but the pieces just all came together. I was definitely hugely inspired by my own friends, many of whom I met online, and I was surprised by how much online friendships became so central to the book. A lot of Aces Wild is about different kinds of love and how equally valuable they are, and I definitely put a lot of love into writing it!
Do you have any personal experience or interest yourself in casino or card games?
My favorite story about this is that I actually learned blackjack in elementary school, from my 4th grade teacher of all people. We used to play blackjack as a class—we were playing for extra time to play outside, and our teacher was playing for extra quiet time. I was totally into it for a summer. I remember teaching it to my friends in Girl Scouts and we’d play sitting on the floor, betting jelly beans. Which is pretty funny in retrospect, but we had a great time. Otherwise, I never gamble—Jack’s high risk/high reward mindset is totally opposite of me. I’m more of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush kind of person, and I definitely like to keep my money in hand!
As an aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world. Could you talk about your motivation to write this kind of representation, and what representation in general means to you?
My motivation was that I’m also always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world! I first connected to the word asexual through asexual interpreations of fictional chracters (Katniss Everdeen, aroace in my heart forever) and I know how special it can be to see someone like you reflected in the books you’re reading. There’s a sense of validation in seeing characters you can relate to and knowing that your perspective and experiences are things other people feel too. Talking about being ace was always difficult for me, and I considered it a very quiet part of myself, but seeing these characters and narratives be embraced, and being able to write about them myself, has gone a long way in my relationship with myself.
When I first started exploring the idea for Aces Wild: A Heist, I wasn’t really sure what was ‘allowed’ and I was nervous about it. I knew I didn’t want to write a book about asexuality—I didn’t want to write about characters struggling with their asexuality or discovering it, I wanted it to just be another part of them. I wanted them to go on an adventure, while also being asexual! I wanted them to be the main characters, and I wanted there to be more than one of them! It’s what I, as an ace reader, wanted to read, and I hoped that it was something that would resonate with other people, especially aspec readers, too. It was a little nerve-wracking, and sometimes it still is, but seeing how excited people have gotten about it has made it all worth it!
What kind of things can we expect from the characters of Aces Wild: A Heist?
You can expect messy families and goofy friends and just so many characters lying to each other for different reasons. I’ve met some of my best friends online, so it was a lot of fun writing a friend group as chaotic as mine, including stealing bits of their personalities like a raccoon digging through the trash for jokes (I say this with love). With Jack, I wanted a character that has that cool outward confidence and competence of Kaz Brekker, but the insecurities and obstacles of a modern teenager. He’s playing high stakes trying to get his mom out of jail, but he’s also figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. I went for a mix like that for all of the characters—a larger than life kind of exaggeration, but with a grounded center. I want the complexities of Jack’s family life and the relationship between the friend group to be relatable and sincere, but, well, also they’re staging a heist in Las Vegas. Relatable, but also a little more exciting than real life!
How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/ most frustrating parts of the process?
Compared to some people, I think my writing process is pretty straightforward! I always write chronologically and I never skip over scenes or write placeholders—they work for some people, but it just mixes me up if I leave something unwritten. I’m basically allergic to outlining, so the first draft is basically me discovering the characters and the story as it unfolds.
I always joke that my favorite part of the process is whatever I’m not doing at the time, but I think my favorite really is writing the first draft. I tend to start a lot of different ideas, so sometimes it takes a bit to find the one worth writing all the way, but once I do, it’s a lot of fun. First drafts for me are all about potential—I don’t know exactly where the story is going yet, so that means it could go anywhere, and that creative freedom is so exciting. Sometimes editing can be fun too, because it’s a bit like a puzzle where you’re moving around pieces and changing shapes so they all fit together in the best way. Buuut editing can be frustrating too. Now I have to fix all the problems I left for myself while drafting!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
This was the hardest question! One of my friends joked that I should ask myself ‘did you have fun?’ so y’know what—I DID have fun. This is my first time giving an interview, so I super appreciate the cool new experience! Writing is such an important part of my life, I love talking about the process and it’s awesome to get to talk about my book, even if it’s still a little mind-boggling to think that people are actually going to be reading it. You spend so long writing books, querying them, sending them on submission, and then all that hard work pays off and you’re like whoa, I still have something more to learn!
What advice would you give for aspiring authors?
Love your story, even when you don’t love the process. Once you’ve reached one step—the agent, the book deal, the whatever—it’s tempting to look back at all the steps leading up to it and be like ‘wow all the blood, sweat, and tears shaped me into who I needed to be for this step, the stars have aligned to bring me here right now’. And sometimes that’s true! The timeline of my career hasn’t gone like I daydreamed about, but each setback and disappointment was an important part of the process. But also the process sucks! It’s torture! And it doesn’t so much get easier as it gets hard in new and creative ways.
That’s why it’s so important to love your story, because the story is what it’s all about, and that relationship between author and story is where you’re going to feel fulfilled, even when everything else sucks. Love it when you’re drafting, when you’re editing it, even when you have to set it aside and move on to the next story. Because you’re going to have to read it so, so, so many times.
Are there any other projects you are working on at the moment and at liberty to speak about?
I’m always working on something! The nature of publishing means I don’t know if they’ll ever see the light of day or when, so I’ll keep it tantalizingly vague, but I’ve got a lot of projects at different stages that I’m excited for, and excited that they’re all a bit different from each other. Aces Wild: a heist is my first contemporary, and it taught me how much fun I can have in a contemporary space. I’ve got an asexual romcom that was a lot of fun to work on, and I’m hoping to work on an aromantic romcom sometime in the future too. Right now I’ve been working on a YA scifi, but I’ve got thoughts about trying my hand at adult fantasy in the future too. I love trying out new genres and exploring their possibilities, so you might see just about anything from me in the future!
Finally, what are some LGBTQIA+ books/authors you would recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?
In recent memory I really enjoyed Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White and May The Best Man Win by ZR Ellor, which are very different but both very good books. Coming up I’m also looking forward to Funeral Girl by Emma Ohland and A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy!